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Violin Concerto

4.5 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 18, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product description

Concerto pour violon, op.61 / Gil Shaham, violon - Orchestre Symphonique de Chicago - David Zinman, direction


Chosen as one of the 10 Classical Albums that mattered in 2008: Two musicians with deep ties to the Aspen Music Festival join forces for this live recording, making a persuasive case that this lesser- known sibling to Edward Elgar's ubiquitous Cello Concerto deserves enhanced stature.

In peak form, with typically responsive phrasing and fetching, natural tone, Shaham receives forceful backing from Zinman and the orchestra. He commands immediate attention, delivering his opening entrance with deliberate understatement, and a sense of questioning -- Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan, December 2008

Shaham's playing on this album is so supremely gorgeous--better than on any other I've heard--that I hate the very thought of criticizing this recording. But I must.

In the first movement I felt like I was listening to Zinman analyze it rather than feel it. The balances are exquisite, revealing details I never knew were there. But the orchestral style initially is so legato, so civilized that it's what I call American-generic--the way Leonard Slatkin or André Previn sound when they're least inspired. Above all, Shaham and Zinman change tempos so often and so radically (precious here, dramatic there) that they destroy the form of the movement.

This album (recorded February 2007 at performances in Orchestra Hall) also has the richest, most vibrant, balanced sound you're likely to get from this dry venue, where the microphones have "the best seat". But there's one glaring sound problem, and I think the culprit is mastering engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, not recording engineer Christopher Willis: it sounds like Seetoo went through the score, marked every single passage where the violin is playing, and reduced the orchestra to a twodimensional "background" ambience with rather flat dynamic range. (This surely isn't Zinman's doing--for glaring proof try I at 6:30 or III at 4:53.) What a pity! In purely orchestral passages the sound envelops you; when the violin plays, you reach for the volume knob but still can't get a matching orchestral sound.

This is particularly frustrating in the first movement, because the orchestral writing here is richer and more dynamic than in II and III.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I hasten to say that Shaham and Zinman have far better flow and form in II--probably because it's not written in as convoluted a style as I. In fact, II is extremely satisfying, partly because Zinman finally seems to have gotten caught up in emotion rather than analysis. As the excellent liner notes say about this movement, "The orchestra and soloist commune together in music that Elgar described as `where two souls merge and melt into one another'."

III is utterly exquisite. No mere analysis here! The flow and form are complete, and the long cadenza at the end is worth the entire recording. Though I wish Seetoo had goosed its shimmering orchestral underpinnings just a bit more, the sound is good enough as Shaham turns in the most exquisite, rapturous, technically perfect, and (may I say) exotically beautiful cadenza (with the widest-ranged, most awesome portamento) I've ever heard in this music.

For the complete experience, I still refer to Menuhin/Boult on EMI, though Sitkovetsky's recording with Menuhin conducting on Virgin is where I go for total rapture -- American Record Guide, Gil French, May/June 2009

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61: 1. Allegro
  2. Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61: 2. Andante
  3. Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61: 3. Allegro molto

Product details

  • Performer: Shaham
  • Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Composer: Elgar
  • Audio CD (November 18, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Canary Classics
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,767 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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